Amid the Green Corn: Part Six
by Cooper Young
“May they leave whole?”
“With their tongues, you mean? I guess so. I don’t think they’ll trouble me again.”
“Wait a minute now,” said East, and threw the noose around Simon’s neck. “You said we could get on with this.”
Simon said “That’s why I should go first. It’s only fair that I get a guess, and I can’t very well do it after you hang me.” Triumph gave this sort of shrug and hand wave to show she thought he had a point, and nobody could really argue with his logic.
East certainly couldn’t. “I’m not here to play fair,” he said, and then to me and the boy who’d been picked, “Lift him up.”
And I said “no.”
“What do you mean, ‘no’?”
“I mean ‘if you lot want to hang my brother you’ve got too many people for me to stop you, but you’re nuts if you think I’ll help’. That’s what I mean.”
He just stared at me, and I think right then he was more angry about having me embarrass him than anything else. “Lift him up,” he said again.
“Okay, wait. That’s it.” The minute she said it every Rilikan rider who’d pointed a gun at the ground was pointing it back at us. “He gets a guess. Not for fairness’ sake, not to be capricious, but because I no longer like you. Yes, you,” and she pointed right at East. “I don’t think his brother was involved in what he did, and in my book you just went from ‘righteously angry’ to ‘asshole looking for an excuse to be himself’. He guesses, and he guesses first.”
East looked like he had something to say, but he looked up at all those guns pointed at him and swallowed it back down. Triumph went over to Simon and leaned in close to him. They’d tied his hands right around the time the Rilikan were laughing at them, so she cupped one hand around her ear so none of them could read his lips. He leaned in, and he whispered something no one could hear over the rain on the leaves.
We stared at her, watching her face for even the slightest change. There was nothing. I swear to you not one muscle moved from her hairline to her chin. He pulled back. She gave him a long look, lifted up the hem of her coat to wipe the mud off his face, and stared at him again.
Right then, before she lifted the noose off him or told the rest of us to stay the hell off her land, I knew he was safe. I knew I’d probably never see him again, but I’d started the day knowing that. He was safe, so I was happy. He rode off with the Rilikan, and we ended up standing there in the field with nothing. We went home.
So that’s how my brother Simon became Mercy Speaking Softly, King of the Rilikan. Prince Consort, really, but she calls him her king and I don’t plan to argue with her. They had seven daughters, lived happily ever after, and tried to kill your parents on a regular basis for the last twenty years.
You thought I’d forgotten what I was talking about, didn’t you? No, no, no. You see, that bargain Simon made with Triumph was the most harmful thing anyone ever did to this clan. He let those men go back to their starving families with knowledge of where to find food. That was why she had wanted to cut our tongues out, so we couldn’t tell anyone where the corn was. She thought we were scared enough or grateful enough to never tell, but East did. A bunch of others, too. There was no way it was ever going to stay a secret, and she should have seen that. But let’s face it, you don’t have to spend a minute in their camp to know that what little Mercy asks, Mercy gets.
That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you this whole time: this war is really not that complicated. The have food. We don’t. We want their food. They don’t want to give it to us. That’s it, and there’s no need to dress it up as anything else. My brother was no martyr in need of your vengeance, and his wife is no demon sent by an angry planet to exact justice for humanity’s faults. They’re humans who want to provide food for their genetic line. Same as every one of you.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t go out into the cornfields tomorrow. I’m just saying that when you do, you need to be okay with the reality of it.